Can I take my breastmilk on a plane if/when I need to travel? If so, how do I do it?
First off, if you do want to breastfeed on the plane you absolutely can and it is legal, natural and helpful for your baby's comfort level and while flying. Not to mention, you'll have all that oxytocin running through your body which will help with any anxiety or jitters from flying. However, if you prefer to carry it on in liquid form here's what you need to know.
Many families ask me this around the holidays and summer time. The answer is Yes, but with a few rules & restrictions with TSA that are vague and confusing, but I'm here to help! You have options:
Option 1: Freeze & Pack it! If you pumped milk while you were on your trip and need to bring it back with you, not to worry. Simply pack it in your suitcase in a few gallon bags to keep it carefully stored. Add a small ice pack or two and you are good to go!
Option 2: What about freshly expressed milk that I want to bring for my baby on the plane. How much of it can I bring, should I bring and how do I safely store it?
Option 3: Freeze it and Ship It; most costly option but it works and you can send a lot this way. Dry ice is your friend here and also a lot of military families I've worked with have found this to be an easy option for them to transport milk to their babies when they are separated.
According to TSA: "Formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers (0-24 months) are permitted in reasonable quantities through the security checkpoint. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings."
While the term "reasonable quantities" doesn't quite give us a definitive answer, my mama anxiety says, better only bring whatever amount you'd be comfortable losing--in case they do something crazy--but they shouldn't.
That being said, a good rule of thumb is to take only what your baby will need for the duration of the flight. If you want to err on the side of caution, pack for a 24 hour day in case of delays due to weather conditions or missed/rescheduled flights. Traveling with 10 bottles/feedings x 3oz (or less to keep smaller quantities to avoid wasting) = 30oz total liquid breastmilk.
Storing Safely: Whatever is left unused, make sure it stays cold and it will need to be put in the fridge and used within 3-7 days of being thawed or pumped. You don't have to dump it unless it's been sitting at room temperature for longer than 6-8 hours. Ask the flight attendant for a cup or two of ice to put in your bag to keep the milk cold while on the plane, but also remember that planes are cold-ish in general which is helpful when transporting human milk for human babies.
Breastmilk testing: Just before getting in the security line, be sure to have your milk out of the cooler bag and placed in separate ziploc bags in your carryon. Once you've put your bag through the scanners they will also need to inspect your milk separately from your carryon bag.
There are a few ways they do this:
Visual inspection upon you declaring it, rare.
Vapor test, this is the most invasive method so I encourage you to be prepared for it. To minimize contamination and exposure when the bottles are open, ask them to change to new clean gloves prior to handling your milk bottles. When the bottles are open, they will hold a small testing strip over the top of your bottles but they should not put it inside. Hopefully they have you hold the bottles yourself so they minimize handling it. Once it passes the clearance you are on your way with your milk!
The lesser invasive option but not as common everywhere is a scanning wand or other device, they should not open the milk bottles for this type of inspection.
You can also nurse, pump and hand express on the flight at your seat with a nursing cover or in the bathroom. You don't have to notify anybody unless you want to, pumping milk for your baby is your business and no one else's. Don't forget to feed, express or stimulate your breast in some way during the flight as a way to protect your supply. Suckling at breast during takeoff and landing on the airplane can help with the discomfort of their ears popping from the rapid change in elevation.
In short, TLDR version:
Yes, you can carry breastmilk on the plane in any amount, but you must know it will be subject to inspection. Be sure to store it properly and don't stress when you have a little bit of spillage with leaks from the bags, it happens to all of us! Freeze the bulk of it and pack it in your suitcase. Only carry on about 24 hours worth of milk and be prepared to find ways to nurse your baby comfortably to avoid having to pump and to avoid missing a feed potentially causing a dip in your supply. Lastly, you are one awesome mama or papa and I know you will rock this whole traveling and breastfeeding thing.
Happy & Safe Travels!
Non-Sponsored Item recommendations for traveling while breastfeeding:
Medela Pump In Style